Belgium raps Israel envoy for tweet protesting UN invite to anti-Israel speaker

Ambassador summoned over retweet rebuking Brussels for hosting ‘terror supporters’ at upcoming Security Council session; Jerusalem insists Belgium cancel invite to Brad Parker

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Emmanuel Nahshon outside the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on January 28, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Emmanuel Nahshon outside the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on January 28, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel and Belgium engaged in diplomatic mudslinging Friday after Jerusalem accused Brussels of a systematic campaign to demonize the Jewish state at the United Nations, including by hosting a “radical” pro-Palestinian activist next week at the Security Council.

The Belgian foreign ministry on Friday morning summoned Israel’s ambassador, Emmanuel Nahshon and gave him a dressing down for retweeting a tweet critical of Brussels’s choice to invite Brad Parker, a senior member of Defense for Children International – Palestine, to address the Security Council.

In a statement sent to Israeli reporters, the Belgian foreign ministry said it was “surprised and dismayed” by Israel’s expressing its discontent about the matter in the media.

“We have called in the Israeli Ambassador this morning to express our dismay at certain tweets which he has retweeted in his official capacity as Ambassador to Belgium. We have expressed our clear disagreement both on substance and form,” the statement said.

“Belgium is attached to good relations with Israel and wants to maintain an open and frank dialogue among friends. Indeed, we have reached out proactively to Israel on this particular topic. However, that should/will not stop us from having an opinion.”

In response to the statement, a diplomatic official in Jerusalem said Brussels should rethink hosting someone with hostile views toward the Jewish state rather than focusing on articles in the Israeli media. “The invite to the Security Council to someone which such anti-Israel views does not represent the friendship between Belgium and Israel,” the official added.

Belgium’s UN Ambassador Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve addresses the United Nations Security Council, at UN headquarters, January 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Belgium took over the rotating presidency of the council this month and is using this privilege to invite speakers who, according to fuming Jerusalem officials, hold an extreme anti-Israel bias. They were especially outraged about Brussels inviting Brad Parker, the senior adviser for policy and advocacy at Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCI-P), to speak at the council’s February 24 session.

“Belgium has positioned itself as one of the Security Council member states most hostile toward Israel,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lior Haiat told The Times of Israel on Thursday. “Inviting a one-sided radical activist such as Mr. Parker to brief the Security Council is yet another negative record.”

Nahshon, the Israeli envoy, on Thursday took to Twitter to express regret at Brussels inviting “terror supporters” to the Security Council. “This is extremely disappointing and we will express our outrage in the strongest possible terms.”

Earlier on Thursday, the Foreign Ministry had summoned Belgian deputy ambassador Pascal Buffin for a dressing down. He was rebuked by Alon Bar, the head of the ministry’s UN and International Organizations Division, who demanded Belgium reconsider the invitation to Parker.

“It was a very harsh conversation,” an Israeli diplomatic official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Inviting Parker, who is an American lawyer and Palestinian rights activist, was only one of several steps Brussels has taken since joining the Security Council in January 2019, the official said. “Belgium has positioned itself as the most anti-Israel state in the council. Its initiatives have surpassed those of the other pro-Palestinians states,” the official added, referring to countries such as South Africa, Indonesia and Tunisia.

“We see it as a systematic Belgian policy to bash Israel in the Security Council by trying to echo voices that accuse Israel of committing war crimes. And this is totally unacceptable,” the official said.

Reached by The Times of Israel on Thursday, Parker insisted that he does not support terrorism.

“I was asked to brief the council specifically on grave violations against children as part of the UN’s children and armed conflict agenda which includes the situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” he wrote in an email.

Brad Parker (Twitter)

“It is an evidence-based mechanism led by UNICEF on the ground in the OPT and my remarks, once heard, should not be controversial. These allegations are an attempt to silence legitimate human rights work exposing the reality for children impacted by Israeli military occupation.”

Officials in Jerusalem and pro-Israel advocates accuse the nonprofit of having an extreme bias against Israel, regularly accusing the Jewish state of committing war crimes.

Parker said in January 2019: “Israeli armed forces have regularly been implicated in widespread and systematic human rights violations against Palestinian children, yet systemic impunity is the norm.”

In 2015 — one year after Israel’s Operation Protective Edge against Gaza terrorists — Parker accused the Jewish state of violating international law and carrying out “indiscriminate attacks.”

NGO-Monitor, an Israeli watchdog group critical of pro-Palestinian nonprofits, in February 2019 claimed that “numerous DCI-P board members, officials and employees” are members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, an internationally recognized terrorist group. It gave details on several such officials and their alleged links to the PFLP.

“I cannot imagine how the Belgian government justified inviting a terror-linked propaganda NGO to address the Security Council,” the head of NGO-Monitor, Gerald Steinberg, told The Times of Israel. “Perhaps the firm Israeli response will finally lead some European officials to examine their close links to the Palestinian NGO network.”

Parker, in his response to The Times of Israel, threatened to sue anyone who accuses his organization of having terrorist ties.

“DCI-P has retained and instructed lawyers in the UK and elsewhere to take legal action in respect of similar allegations of links to groups designated as terrorist organizations or other claims that DCI-P supports terror,” he wrote.

“Rather than demand Israeli forces stop intentionally and unlawfully killing Palestinian child protesters in Gaza with live ammunition or that Israeli authorities hold perpetrators accountable, Israeli officials and rising conservative nationalist social forces in Israel create and disseminate misinformation aiming to silence and eliminate legitimate human rights work that exposes human rights violations inherent in Israel’s military occupation of Palestinians,” he added.

The Belgian foreign ministry, in its Friday statement, noted that it is currently chairs the working group on children and armed conflict in New York, a subsidiary organ of the UN Security Council.

“Beyond that, attention to the plight of children in armed conflict is a traditional priority in Belgian diplomacy. We also attach importance to civil society participation to the UN Security Council, for the sake of transparency,” the statement read.

Brussels disagreed with some of the claims Israel made about DCI-P, the ministry said, noting that the NGO has “consultative status” in several UN bodies, including UNICEF.

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